Iowa and the MWCC: Collaborating to Develop Social Studies Standards

By Emily Loney

April 18, 2017

IA Standards Development ImageIn 2016, the Iowa Department of Education (IDE) launched its work to revise the state’s social studies standards, which were previously adopted in 2008. The standards had been scheduled for an update, but IDE also heard from Iowa teachers who said they wanted clearer, more specific expectations than those outlined in the current social studies standards. The process of revising state academic standards and gathering public feedback can be a complicated process. Stefanie Wagner, a social studies consultant at IDE, has been grateful to have partnership and extra support from the Midwest Comprehensive Center (MWCC) throughout the process.

As the review process began, Wagner worked closely with Beth Ratway, a senior consultant with the MWCC and a former social studies consultant with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Wagner appreciates the outside lens that Ratway brought to the work. “It has been so helpful to have Beth’s input and support,” notes Wagner, “especially since she has been able to share perspectives from other states and what processes have and have not worked for others.” To support the standards writing process, the MWCC surveyed other states and conducted a scan to determine how other states approached the revision of social studies standards.

Involving many stakeholders in the process was a priority for reviewing the social studies standards. Wagner and Ratway developed a plan to decide which individuals should be involved in the different parts of the review process. The MWCC also synthesized best practices related to standards revision and social studies content.

Together, Ratway and Wagner planned and facilitated meetings of the Social Studies Standards Writing Team, which included teachers, district staff, individuals from higher education, and community members. Through the course of multiple meetings, the group had an opportunity to review state, national, and international social studies standards and develop a set of draft standards.

Once the draft standards were completed, it was time to gather public input. Ratway and Wagner sat down together to determine what type of feedback to get. “We tried to think as comprehensively as we could,” says Wagner, and the state created a multipronged approach to gathering feedback. Staff from IDE and the MWCC facilitated a series of focus groups with elementary, middle, and high school Iowa teachers. The state also released a public survey to gather input and held three public forums to collect community input. The public forums and survey demonstrated a high level of support for the draft standards—63 percent of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the draft Iowa social studies learning standards will lead to improved learning for Iowa students.

“The staff from the Midwest Comprehensive Center were invaluable as facilitators,” notes Wagner. “The combination of all the feedback from the public and the review team really helped us to understand what people are thinking.”

Currently, the Social Studies Standards Review Team is completing its work. The revised standards are scheduled to be presented to the Iowa Board of Education for adoption later this year. The MWCC is working with the IDE leadership team to develop an implementation plan, and IDE has launched workgroups to support the implementation of the social studies standards.